The King of Raï earns his title as he blends together the genre with a number of others to make an album full of wonderful dance tracks, bringing traditional Algerian sounds firmly into the 21st century
Foreign-language songs that become chart-toppers in the West are few and far between. With the rare exceptions of the Korean song Gangnam Style, the Swedish song Boten Anna and the Turkish song Sımarık, which all relied on YouTube for their immense global success, one common trope that most of the songs that manage to break into the Anglophone market have in common is that they are almost always sung in Spanish or Portuguese. Perhaps this is because, like English, they are European languages, although that fails to explain why the number of Italian, French, and Romanian language tracks (with the exception of O-Zone’s Dragostea Din Tei) is so scarce amongst pop songs that have become mainstream in the UK and the US. It could be argued that songs by the likes of Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, Michel Telo, and Kaoma all have a particular ‘tropical twang’ that perhaps makes their music appealing to a Western audience, as it paints a picture of beaches, parties and holidays. However, this still fails to explain why a song originally by an Algerian, sung in French and Arabic, when covered in Spanish by Marc Anthony become the sound of the summer across the globe in 2013.
“The album contains a vast array of styles and influences, but one thing the whole record has in common is its magnetic pull that it has between its listeners and the dance floor. ”
What is perhaps even more shocking than the fact the original failed to have the same kind of international success as its slightly more salsa-esque counterpart, is that I only recently found its existence and had immediately assumed the song that was my ringtone when I was aged 17, Vivir Mi Vida, was indeed the original. Nevertheless, whilst I can appreciate the title-track on this album is a great song, I have slightly ruined it for myself by having listened to Marc Anthony’s Spanish language version as well as the Hebrew version Hashem Melech by Gad Elbaz too many times,. Therefore, when listening to this album for the first time I rather naively thought that the first song would be the only track worth listening to. However, Khaled’s raï-pop fusion deservedly earns him the nickname the ‘King of Raï’, despite the presence of other masters of the genre including Libya’s Ahmed Fakroun as well as Algeria’s Rachid Taha. Listening to the album C’est La Vie proves why such high praise is bandied around about Khaled.
The album contains a vast array of styles and influences, but one thing the whole record has in common is its magnetic pull that it has between its listeners and the dance floor. The variety of all of Khaled’s toe-tappers is immense. The EDM numbers like Ana Âacheck, Hiya Hiya featuring Mr Worldwide himself, Pitbull, and Wili Wili that could all set crowds alight at festivals, whilst the more traditional raï songs El Harraga and Bab Jenna, also have got a danceable quality to them too. I am also impressed by the cross-cultural influences as not only does he sung in French and Arabic, but he also honours North Africa’s close relationship with the south of Spain, not only by naming a song after the region, Andalucia, but also including a homage to flamenco with use of castanets. This is not the only Hispanic-inspired track with the final song Elle Est Partie carrying almost a slight tango vibe at times.
However, I would argue that Khaled is at his best during his more rocky numbers Encore Une Fois and my favourite song Dima Labess. There is something quite iconic about these two songs and I would suggest that it is perhaps down to his powerful voice that he belts out both choruses with. If I had to nit-pick, I would say the only genre that Khaled does not blend well with raï is R&B as I did not care much for the song Laila. Yet, this is as an incredibly minor criticism for what is ultimately an album that I have enjoyed more each time I have listened to it. Whilst Marc Anthony may have taken most of the plaudits for Khaled’s work, the Algerian singer can rest assured that he produced an entertaining masterpiece. When taste-makers in the Anglophone West finally discover Khaled I have no doubt they would not feel regret that they had not come across his genius sooner.